Communism in The United States - Explanations For Weakness

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Explanations For Weakness

Academic scholars have long studied the reasons why no viable socialist parties have emerged in the United States. Some writers ascribe this to the failures of socialist organization and leadership, some to the incompatibility of socialism and American values, and others to the limitations imposed by the American constitution. Lenin and Trotsky were particularly concerned because it challenged core Marxist beliefs, that the most advanced industrial country would provide a model for the future of less developed nations. If socialism represented the future, then it should be strongest in the United States.

Although Working Men's Parties were founded in the 1820s and 1830s in the United States, they advocated equality of opportunity, universal education and improved working conditions, not socialism, collective ownership or equality of outcome, and disappeared after their goals were taken up by Jacksonian democracy. Gompers, the leader of the AFL thought that workers must rely on themselves because any rights provided by government could be revoked. Economic unrest in the 1890s was represented by populism. Although it used anti-capitalist rhetoric, it represented the views of small farmers who wanted to protect their own private property, not a call for collectivism, socialism, or communism. Progressives in the early 20th century criticized the way capitalism had developed but were essentially middle class and reformist. However both populism and progressivism steered some people to left-wing politics. Many popular writers of the progressive period were in fact left-wing. But even the New Left relied on radical democratic traditions rather than left-wing ideology.

Engels thought that the lack of a feudal past was the reason for the American working class holding middle class values. Writing at the time when American industry was developing quickly towards the mass-production system known as Fordism, Max Weber and Antonio Gramsci saw individualism and laissez-faire liberalism as core shared American beliefs. According to the historian David DeLeon, American radicalism, unlike social democracy, Fabianism and communism, was rooted in libertarianism and syndicalism and opposed to centralized power and collectivism.

The character of the American political system, which is hostile toward third parties has also been presented as a reason for the absence of a strong socialist party in the United States.

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